Discipline and punishments inside prison
Can I be searched?
Yes, at any time the prison can carry out the following searches:
- a scanner search
- a rub-down search
- a search of your cell.
You can be:
- X-ray searched or body scanned if there’s good reason to believe you have an unauthorised item
- strip-searched in some situations.
Under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act any search must be reasonable in the particular situation. Searches can only take place for the purpose of detecting unauthorised items.
A rub-down search is the search of a person while they’re wearing clothes. The prison officer carrying out the search runs or pats their hands over your body, either outside your clothing or inside your outer clothing, like a jacket. They can’t put their hands inside your underwear. They can also put their hands inside any pockets or pouches.
When doing a rub-down search the prison officer can also order you to:
- open your mouth
- show them the palms of your hands
- show the soles of your feet
- lift or rub your hair
- remove, raise, lower or open any outer clothing (such as a coat, jacket or jumper)
- take off any headgear, gloves or footwear (including socks or stockings).
The searcher can also examine your mouth, nose or ears. They can use an instrument like a torch to help with the search, but they can’t put the instrument inside your mouth, nose or ears.
The search must be carried out with decency and sensitivity. The prison officer who does the rub-down search must be of the same sex as you. If you’re transgender you should be allowed to choose the sex of the officer who searches you.
If the prison doesn’t follow the rules for these searches, you can make a complaint
A scanner search is a search of a fully clothed person with an electronic device, such as a metal detector, that can detect unauthorised items. This includes the use of “imaging technology” which produces an image of the body.
If imaging technology is used it must obscure your genitals or make them not easily distinguishable (unless being used as an alternative to a strip search) and can only be viewed by a PCO of the same sex as you.
An X-ray search is a search of a fully or partly clothed person using an X-ray machine that’s designed to identify hidden items. You can be asked to take off some outer clothing when you have an X-ray search.
If you’re strip-searched you can be required to remove, raise, lower or open all of your clothing, including your underwear.
The searcher can order you to do any of the things you can be ordered to in a rub-down search (see above), and can also order you to:
- raise your arms so that you show your armpits
- spread your legs apart and squat down
- lift any part of your body (such as rolls of fat or your penis or breasts).
The searcher can also examine your mouth, nose and ears and your anal and genital areas. They can use an instrument such as a torch to help with the search, but they can’t put the instrument inside any of those areas.
The search must be carried out with decency and sensitivity. The prison officer who does the search must be of the same sex as you. A second prison officer or police officer must also be present when you’re being strip-searched, and they must also be of the same sex as you. If you’re transgender you should be allowed to choose the sex of the officer who searches you.
A strip-search can’t be carried out where a prison officer of a different sex from you can see it, or where any other prisoner can see it.
If the prison doesn’t follow the rules for strip-searches, you can make a complaint
When can I be strip-searched?
The prison staff must strip-search you in the following situations:
- when you first arrive at prison
- when you return to the prison after being outside in the control of prison officers, probation officers or other staff
- when you arrive at a new prison after being transferred from another one
- if you’re placed in segregation (separated from other prisoners) because there’s a risk that you’ll harm yourself. You will be strip-searched every time you enter the at-risk cell until a management plan is established that describes when strip-searches will take place.
- each time you return to segregation after being in other areas where there are non-segregated prisoners.
The prison staff also have the option of strip-searching you in the following situations:
- when you’re about to be confined to your cell as a punishment (cell confinement)
- when you return to prison from work or from an unsupervised area
- before you leave the prison
- when you’re outside the prison but under the supervision of a prison officer
- before and after going to the courts or to a hearing in front of the Parole Board, a Hearing Adjudicator or a Visiting Justice
- before and after seeing visitors
- when you’re about to provide a sample for a drug test and a strip search is necessary to make sure the sample isn’t tampered with, or when you’ve provided a sample test and there’s reason to believe it’s been tampered with or contaminated.
Prison officers can also strip-search you if they have good reason to believe that you have an unauthorised item and that a scanner or rub-down search won’t find it. However, the prison officer must get permission from the prison manager for the strip search, unless it needs to be done urgently for reasons of health and safety or prison security.
What are my rights if dogs are used for a search?
The prison officers must take reasonable steps to prevent the dog from touching you and that the search is carried out with decency and sensitivity.
Can I be held while waiting to be searched?
Yes, you can be held (“detained”) for the purposes of being searched.
If you’re suspected of swallowing or inserting an unauthorised item into your body (like illegal drugs), then you can be held in a segregation cell without a toilet or running water. For information about drug/alcohol testing, see the next section.
If there’s good reason to believe you have illegal drugs in your possession, you can be held while the police are called. Prison officers can use reasonable force to hold you. If the police arrest you and suspect that you’ve swallowed illegal drugs or inserted them into your body, a doctor can do an internal examination, unless they believe this could damage your health or that you’re not willing to be examined.
How long can I be held while waiting for the police to search me for drugs?
If there’s good reason to suspect you have illegal drugs and the police have been called, you can be held for up to four hours. If the police tell the prison officer it will take longer than four hours to arrive, you must be released immediately.
In most situations a search should be able to be done quickly and you shouldn’t be held for long.